Successful Seniors Set Sights On Semi State

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Updated: February 17, 2017

By: James Pence
IndianaSports.com
Staff Reporter

Four sectional titles, three regional titles, two semi-state titles, and one state championship are what the Columbus North girls’ basketball team has accomplished, so far, over the past four years.

Seniors Maliah Howard-Bass and Imani Guy have been along for the ride ever since they stepped foot onto Memorial Gymnasium freshman year.

The two met each other in health class a year prior but their bond became strong once they were in their first open gym together.

“When I first saw her in open gym, I was like, ‘Hey, I know you!’” Guy said.

They also spent four years playing volleyball together, as well.

During their freshman year, they played behind Tayler Goodall, a 2014 Indiana All-Star that currently plays at Florida Gulf Coast, Kelsey Cunningham, who is playing at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Ali Patberg, who is currently playing at Notre Dame and was the 2015 Miss Indiana Basketball, a McDonalds All-American, and finished as the program’s all-time leader scorer.

“Everything ran around them and I knew I was not going to get much time in the beginning,” Howard-Bass said. “Later on at the end of the season, I was our sixth-man, so just working hard has improved my playing time on the team.”

During their sophomore year, Guy and Howard-Bass played a much bigger role on the team when they claimed the Class 4A state championship by defeating Homestead and finishing 28-1 on the season.

 

AN ADDITION TO THE PACK

 

With the start of the junior campaigns fast approaching, Howard-Bass and Guy and the rest of the team were in for a huge overhaul of the entire team. That meant a lot of the returning girls had to step up into bigger roles.

One of the biggest voids that Columbus North worried about at first was who was going to succeed Patberg as the point guard.

“I think sophomore year and our freshman year, we depended on Ali and the seniors more,” Guy said. “Since junior year up, we more like shared the ball. It has been evenly spread out and we know our strengths and weaknesses.”

One addition that gave them a huge boost was that of Ashlyn Huffman, then a junior at the time. She transferred to Columbus North after spending her freshman and sophomore years at Conference Indiana rival Franklin Central. She was also a point guard, the missing piece that needed to be filled.

“Having an experience varsity player, especially a point guard is like, ‘Wow!’ because we needed a point guard and we did not have to shuffle everyone around as much,” Howard-Bass said.

 

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY

 

Huffman has been plagued by injury, after injury, after injury during her high school career. She tore the ACL in her right knee while she played at Franklin Central before transferring to Columbus North. In February of 2016, she tore the meniscus in her right knee in the regional finals against Evansville Central.

The Bull Dogs still managed to get to the state finals before falling to Penn. It was devastating to watch for Huffman because she thought she could have been the difference if she had the opportunity to play.

“It was hard on me,” Huffman said. “I was really proud of the team of how we did in the semi-state last year (against Indianapolis Roncalli). Everyone stepped up in their roles. Kenzie (Patberg) stepped up and Emily Kim from last year stepped up. That defies our team. We’re not one player-we’re not three players. We involve everybody.”

A couple months later, Huffman was back at full strength after her meniscus recovery and determined to make it back to state again for her senior year.

A huge speed bump occurred while playing with her Skye Diggs Elite AAU team in July, Huffman received the worst news possible from the doctors when in fact she had tore her ACL again. This time, however, it was her left knee. It was a bit scary for Huffman, who was thinking she may not be able to play her senior year, thus possibly ending her high school basketball career.

“I think the first time definitely helped me with the second time in just knowing I could get back there eventually,” said Huffman on her ACL injuries. “When you do first come back and able to play, it is hard. You’re very uncertain about doing stuff. You don’t want to do certain cuts, but it helped me a lot mentally because I really struggled the first time.”

Huffman eventually returned to the team in December, but she still did not feel 100-percent.

“I was very timid and did not go to the basket,” Huffman said. “I would stay after practice and work on some cuts and different stuff. With each game, I just got more and more into it and now I feel totally fine.”

 

NOT FEELING THE PRESSURE

 

Columbus North started this season as the No. 1 ranked team in Class 4A, but a lot of pollsters probably did not know of the health situation. Regardless, there were still a lot of high expectations.

After losing game to Lawrence North and Lakota West in Cincinnati, the Bull Dogs slipped out of the poll.

The Bull Dogs suffered an unusual loss to Seymour in December and lost their first conference game since January 2011 to Perry Meridian. At that time, outsiders thought this was an early ending to an era spanning more than five years.

Huffman said this to me following their December 17 win against Terre Haute North, “This is the part of the season where we define who are as a team and whether if we are going to be one of the top teams in the state or not. A lot of people have put us down and we are going to be coming under the radar.”

When the state tournament began, they did just that. They have been the sleeper team in Class 4A and have surprised many people. The road was not easy, however. Crosstown rival Columbus East almost pulled the upset after poor free throw shooting nearly cost them the sectional championship. Columbus North coach Pat McKee has stated to the team throughout the season, “It doesn’t matter what we’ve done to this point (of the season). Are we going to get better?”

One thing that the Bull Dogs improved on in regionals was free throw shooting. It played a big part in helping them capture the regional championship last weekend at Bedford.

The senior trio can add another title to their careers when they play their toughest game of the season to date when they travel to Richmond to take on Pike for the semi-state championship Saturday. Tipoff for that game is approximately at 3 p.m. If the Bull Dogs emerge victorious, it will be their third straight trip to the state finals.

 

LASTING LEGACY

 

During their four years at Columbus North, Guy and Howard-Bass have a combined 99-13 record, which included a stretch of 44 victories in a row.

Whether they win or lose Saturday, Howard-Bass, Guy, and Huffman hoped to have left a lasting impression on the team that will carry into the future.

“Anything is possible pretty much,” Howard-Bass said. “This team is known for having a good postseason. Just let go of the old season and then focusing on the new season. Every game we want to go 1-0. That mental focus and that mental attitude has helped us win.”

All three of them will continue their basketball careers in college.

Howard-Bass will be attending Ball State, Guy will be attending University of Southern Indiana, and Huffman will continue her career at Cedarville University in Ohio.

 

I want to give a special thanks to Pat McKee and the Columbus North girls’ basketball team.

For the latest high school news, interviews, and features, be sure to follow James Pence on Twitter @jpencesports

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